As I did with the original Civilization! game I want to give a few hints about playing Civilization II. But also, this is not a complete strategy guide. If you want a full-fledged strategy guide, I’d start with the one on the Civilization Wiki.
First, keeping your cities happy is very important. If you don’t do this they can go into unrest, the mayor will flee in panic, and if you don’t correct it right away your government will fall. This happiness issue is in all of the Civ games, though the mechanics may change depending on the version. In the early stages, you want to build a Temple in each city, and once you research Monotheism I would recommend building Michelangelo’s Chapel, which gives you a Cathedral in every city, a major boost to happiness because it takes up to 3 unhappy citizens in each city and makes them content. If you can’t build this wonder you would have to build a Cathedral in each city to get the same effect. You can also increase happiness by increasing the funding for Luxuries, or by turning some of your citizens into Entertainers. Entertainers are a good short-term solution, but they reduce your food, production, and trade because they are not working tiles, so I would consider them temporary. The last way to manage this is to keep your cities very small, because as they grow the added citizens are likely to be unhappy, subject to the above modifications. This happens more quickly as you go to higher difficulty levels. At the lowest level (Chieftain) you can have 6 citizens before this kicks in, while at the highest level (Deity) you only get 1 happy citizen when you found a city. So learning to manage this is very important. For a fuller discussion the Civilization Wiki has a good article.
The next thing to consider is the Wonders of the World. I find them more significant in Civ II than in the original in terms of their impact on the game. There are some that I always try to get. First is The Pyramids, which is unlocked when you discover Masonry. It counts as a Granary in each of your cities, and granaries help you grow your population faster. This matters for the kind of victory you are going after, since there is a strategy to keep city sizes low, settle a lot of them, and pump out units for a conquest victory. But if you are going for a Science victory, large populations are very helpful here. And The Pyramids never expire, so you get this benefit all the way through the game. Another early Wonder worth getting if you can is the Great Library. This grants you knowledge of any technology or science advance that two other Civs have discovered. For a Science victory this is particularly important. I often get it not because I need the help for my science because I will usually be the leading researcher when I go for a Science victory, but getting the Library means I keep it out of the hands of my opponents.
There are two things to keep in mind if you are making Wonders a part of your strategy. First, you can use Caravans to add production to a Wonder, and that means researching Trade should be a priority since that unlocks the ability to build caravans. And you should also be building caravans to create trade routes. You should aim to get three trade routes in every city, and the earlier the better since the revenue goes up the longer the routes are active. This can lead to a very healthy treasury, and as we mentioned previously Sid Meier has said that money is the key to this game. And in the case of Wonders, in Civ II (only) you get a warning when an opponent is about to complete a wonder the next turn. If it is one you are interested in, and you have enough money, you can buy it. Generally, this would happen when you have already built a fair portion of it since the cost goes down when there is less left to build. But having the money on hand gives you flexibility.
Some other Wonders I like to get when I can include Michelangelo’s Chapel, as we discussed previously, which never expires. Then there is Magellan’s Expedition, which gives your ships two extra movement points and all new ships are veteran when built (never expires). Leonardo’s Workshop will automatically upgrade all of your units. It does expire when Automobile is researched, but by that point there aren’t a lot more unit advances anyway. Adam Smith’s Trading Company pays all of the maintenance charges on buildings that require 1 gold maintenance (which is most of them) so it is a big boost to your Treasury. And finally the Hoover Dam counts as a Hydro plant in all cities on the same continent. Now, all Wonders have some benefit, so I have highlighted the ones I find I go for the most often. And you will never get everything you want. But if you have a large treasury and can build lots of caravans you will get more than your share, and it can help you to snowball.
Now, the easiest way I have found to win this game is to build “wide”, i.e., to build lots of cities. Cities are still the basic entities in Civ II, as in Civ I, and it is cities that support your military units and let you build buildings and Wonders. The opposite approach is to build “tall”, i.e. build just a few cities that are highly developed. and the ultimate in this approach is what is called the “one city challenge”. This is very difficult since the idea is to win with just one city, and people have done this in every version of Civ. You have to be a real expert though to pull this off, so for beginners building wide is the suggested approach. I will frequently make an early gamble and settle three cities before I build my first real military unit. You can usually get away with this on a standard size map since no other player is that close, and barbarians are not active right away. And if you do get wiped out right away, just restart or start a new game. I usually do a Save right on the first turn in case I need to start over. You always start with the knowledge of how to build militia units, but sometimes you already know Bronze Working, which lets you build the Phalanx unit, the best early game defensive unit. But the first technology I usually go for is Horseback Riding. This is because the Horseman unit travels faster than units on foot, and I can explore. Exploring is important for several reasons. First, you want to find out who your nearby opponents are. Second, you want to scout out locations for new cities. Third, you want to explore the “goody huts” on the map. They are the best source of gold in the early game, frequently giving you 50 gold when you explore them. They can also give you knowledge of a technology, which saves you time on researching it. And occasionally you will find an “Advanced Tribe” that will join your Civ as a city. But if you are unlucky you will awaken a horde of barbarians, which usually means the death of your exploring unit.
There are two ways to win in Civ II, just as in Civ I: Conquest, or Science. To gain a Conquest victory you need to wipe out all of your opponents. But to do that you need to keep up with Science since that is how you improve your military. In the early game, the best defense is Phalanx and City Walls, and the best offence is Legion, Chariot, or Elephant. A couple of fortified Phalanx units behind City Walls will generally withstand two of the offensive units, so a conquest victory generally means that you need to build lots of offensive units, and that means lots of cities. And some of those cities probably need to focus on Science at any given time, or you may find your ancient Chariots going up against Medieval Pikemen. Barracks will make your units built in them Veteran, which gives them a 50% bonus in battle. But as in Civ I, Barracks become obsolete twice (Gunpowder and Automobile), but Civ II is kinder in that the game automatically sells the obsolete barracks for you and puts the money in your Treasury. In the Medieval period Pikemen are the best defensive unit, and Knights and Crusaders the best offensive units, but as before two veteran Pikemen behind City Walls will withstand any two comparable offensive units. After Gunpowder you get Musketmen, which are the best defensive units, and Cannon, which are the best Offensive units. and it ratchets up over time to Cavalry, Rifleman, and then with the Automobile you unlock Armor, one of the best offensive units, and a bit later Mechanized Infantry, the top Defensive unit. So you need to keep up with Science or you will find your units are outmatched on the battlefield. And knowing that two good defensive units behind City Walls will usually beat two good offensive units of comparable power, you will see that you need to build a lot of units if you plan to go conquering.
For a Science victory, the ultimate aim is the land a Spaceship full of colonists at Alpha Centauri before anyone else does. But that does not mean you can neglect your military. You need to at least have a strong enough military to either deter or punish aggression from your opponents. And one wrinkle is that if your capital is captured before you have landed at Alpha Centauri, it wipes out your spaceship. And that can be as simple as firing a nuclear ICBM (unlocked by building the Manhattan Project Wonder) at your capital, and then sending in Paratroops to occupy the city. Getting a lot of Science involves building Libraries, Universities, and Research Labs. In addition, some Wonders add to Science. The first is the Great Library, mentioned earlier. Two of them, Copernicus’ Observatory and Isaac Newton’s College, only affect the city where they are built, so if you are going for a Science victory you will get the optimal results if you designate one city as your primary Science city and build both of them in that city (if you can). Darwin’s Voyage gives you two free advances, and SETI program gives you a free Research Lab in each city. Other than that, you can create specialists. Note that you create a specialist by clicking on a tile that is being worked in the City screen. That removes the person from your labor pool, and turns him into an Entertainer (looks like Elvis). If you then click on the Elvis figure, you can get a Scientist (looks like Einstein), and click once more to turn him into a Tax Collector.
Finally, you need to pay attention to Productivity. You should develop each tile in your cities as much as possible. Roads (and later Railroads) not only facilitate movement, but also increase the Trade generated on the tile, adding to your Revenue. Hills and Mountains can be Mined, which adds to your production capacity. And Irrigation (later, Farms) add to your food output and help grow your population. Counting the city itself, each city can work 21 tiles, which means you have to get to a population of at least 21 to to maximize your output from a city, and you increase population by increasing food production. It takes a long time to get cities that large of course, so early on a city with a size of 5 is pretty good. As for general production (displayed as “shields”) mines increase this if they are worked, and forests do as well if they are worked. Later on you can build a Factory, then a Manufacturing Plant, to increase this more. Productivity is important for all games. If you are going for conquest, it means you can pump out units faster and overwhelm your opponents. For a Science victory it can mean building your Libraries, Universities, and Research Labs faster. And for getting those juicy Wonders, high productivity cities can not only do them faster, but other cities can pump out Caravans that you can use to build them even faster. A Power Plant will also help with this. But all of these generate Pollution, which will show up as a blotch on a tile. Settlers (later, Engineers) can clean this up but takes a few turns. And until it is cleaned up it reduces output on the tile. You can reduce the generation of pollution by building Mass Transit, a Recycling Center, and finally a Solar Plant. And Hydro plants give you power without adding to pollution in any way, one reason why the Hoover Dam Wonder is so powerful. Nuclear Plants do not generate normal pollution, but there is a chance of a meltdown event which generates its own kind of pollution.
This is the basics for Civ II. But I also want to discuss Test of Time, which will be the next article.